The first place New York Jets (0-0) take on the last place Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-0) in East Rutherford, in a match-up that brings in the new NFL season. All opening days are big, but this one features story lines that extend far beyond the expected records of both teams. It is the first time that Mark Sanchez won’t be under center to start the year since 2008, and his successor—rookie Eugene Cyril Smith III, or Geno for short—will be looking to make a strong first impression after an ugly preseason. The offensive will feature at least five new starters, and the defense is completely revamped, with six new starters in the base package. Luckily for the Jets, the Bucs have not had a particularly strong off-season. Their 1-3 record in preseason play may not mean much on its own, but their manner of losing revealed more questions than answers. This is a winnable game, if Geno is able to limit his mistakes. This leads into the first key.
Chris Ivory & Bilal Powell: Arguably General Manager’s John Idzik’s biggest offseason move, Chris Ivory is entering his first season as a feature back. The Jets brain trust brought him in with the hopes that he could be a three-down back, and given his 5.1 yards per carry average over his 256 career carries, they might be on to something. Ivory is explosive and powerful, with talent that is a rarity even in the NFL. Regardless, he has had a hard time staying healthy over his career, and the emergence of Bilal Powell this off-season may encourage the Jets to split their carries (especially given that Powell is listed as the starter on the most recent depth chart). Powell has looked energized this off-season and could take the claim of being the Jets’ most improved player. He brought a strong training camp into the preseason, displaying much improved field vision and less tentativeness on his way to 98 yards on 27 carries, including a 37 yard scamper. For a fourth round pick that was almost immediately labelled a bust, Powell’s improvement is certainly significant. With a rookie starting his first NFL game and a secondary that features the likes of Darrelle Revis, Mark Barron, and Dashon Goldson, the Jets running game will be critical. The Buccaneers run defense is strong—they allowed an NFL-best 3.5 yards per carry last season—so this will likely be the match up that dictates the outcome of the game.
Geno Smith vs. Leonard Johnson: The Tampa Bay pass defense wasn’t particularly strong last season, giving up a league high 4758 passing yards along with 30 passing touchdowns (5th most in the league). They did add Dashon Goldson and some guy named Revis, but Revis is coming off a torn ACL and did not play in the preseason, so some rust is expected. Regardless, we all